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If only in my dreams
He's standing by the toaster when she comes down the stairs, dressed in his school uniform, slouched over checking his phone. She pulls the belt of her dressing gown tighter and continues on into the kitchen area. She told Vanessa she'd wait for her to bring this up, but she needs to prepare him in case he's going to kick off. Vanessa tries to play it down, like she's not bothered by his behaviour, but Charity knows she is.
He has been a bit better with her recently; opting mostly for sullen silence rather than outright rudeness. She's even heard them exchange a few words on occasion.
"Morning!" she says, smiling brightly at him.
He looks up, eyes flicking over her shoulder to see if she's alone. He nods. "Mornin'." The toaster pops and he fishes out two Pop Tarts, dropping them onto a piece of kitchen roll before the hot sugar can burn his fingers. She rolls her eyes.
"Nice healthy breakfast, I see."
His eyes snap to hers as he moves to the table with his food. "Last time you 'made' me breakfast it was a Kit Kat and half of your coffee."
"And don't pretend you didn't love it," Charity says, rolling her eyes and flicking the button on the kettle. She leans a hip against the counter, arms folded over her stomach. "So, speaking of, you know, eating and that-" Smooth, Charity, she thinks. "Vanessa's suggested that we all go over to hers for tea. Like...as a family kind of thing." She swallows; she should not be this nervous speaking to her own kid. But it's important to her. It's so important that he likes Vanessa. Because Charity really likes Vanessa and plans on keeping her around.
He heaves out a sigh. "When?"
Her heart lifts; he hasn't just dismissed it. "Tomorrow night," she tries to keep her voice casual, like she's not desperate for him to just say yes.
"Who's all going?" he asks, breaking one of his Pop Tarts in two and taking a bite. "It's not gonna be loads of people is it?"
"Just us. Me and you and Moz. And Vanessa and Johnny will be there, obviously." She scrunches up her brow. "And I suppose Tracy might be around, since she lives there. I'm not sure." There are footsteps coming down the stairs. She frowns; she'd really hoped Vanessa wouldn't come down until she'd got a firm answer from him one way or another. She takes two mugs from the drying rack and gives him a hopeful smile. "So, what do you think?" she says, keeping her voice low as she glances at the door.
"Fine," he says. "I'm not doing anything anyway."
"Morning." Vanessa smiles as she comes in.
"Noah's coming for tea!" Charity announces, without meaning to. Both of them look at her strangely and she straightens her dressing gown, clearing her throat.
"Well, that's good," Vanessa says, flashing Noah a smile as she passes him, coming to press a kiss to Charity's cheek. She leans back against the counter as Charity continues making tea for them, crossing her arms over her chest. "I won't even force you to play charades this time."
Noah lets out a little snort through his nose that's almost a laugh. Charity frowns "This time?" she repeats. She's positive Noah's never been to Vanessa's. Not with her at least. She points to each of them in turn. "What am I missing here?"
"Noah spent Christmas at mine a couple of years back, didn't you?" Vanessa says, pushing off the counter to rummage in the bread bin. She drops two slices of bread in the toaster and moves back to Charity, wrapping her arms around her waist and resting her head between her shoulder-blades.
"Christmas? What are you talk-" Then it hits her; it must have been the year she was in prison. She didn't know that Noah had spent Christmas at Vanessa's. "Oh, right. That year."
"Moira made me," Noah huffs, but there's a hint of a smile playing about his lips. "Was worth it to see Cain try and do Brokeback Mountain at charades though."
Vanessa laughs in delight, her whole body shaking against Charity's. Charity waits for the cloying jealousy in her chest that always comes when she feels left out, particularly of her children's lives. But it doesn't appear. Seeing Noah being almost civil to Vanessa actually makes her feel lighter, happier. Like she feels in most situations where Vanessa's involved.
"Oh God, yeah, I'd forgotten about that," Vanessa says.
"I dread to think what he mimed for that," Charity says, faking an exaggerated shudder.
"He pointed at Finn." Vanessa and Noah both speak at once, and then look at each other in surprise.
"Well, that's a heartwarming Christmas story, that is," Charity says, setting Vanessa's cup to the side for her to take. "Party games with a side of homophobia."
"It wasn't a bad day, was it?" Vanessa asks, letting go of Charity and picking up her cup, taking a sip. Charity can see the hope shining in her eyes and wills her boy not to crush it.
"Was alright," Noah agrees, standing up and wrapping his remaining Pop Tart in the kitchen roll. "I better go."
"School, yeah?" Charity says. "Not Joe's."
Noah rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah." He pauses on his way out, turning back. Charity braces herself for a mouthful of cheek, but he's looking at Vanessa. "Will you make that pasta thing you made here the other week? With the bacon and that? It was proper good."
"Yes," Vanessa says, nodding, her eyes huge, lips turned up in a tentative smile. "Absolutely. Of course."
He gives a little nod. "Cool."
"Yeah," Vanessa says. "Totes."
He sighs and shakes his head, continuing out of the room.
Vanessa turns to her. "Oh my God," she whispers, putting her tea down on the counter and taking both of Charity's hands in hers. "He doesn't totally hate me!"
If she wasn't trying to get rid of the stupid tears that have sprung to her eyes, Charity might have laughed at that. Instead she tugs Vanessa closer, linking their fingers and pressing their lips together for a long moment, long enough to get herself under control. "'Course he doesn't," she murmurs. "How could anyone hate you, babe? You're sickeningly likeable."
"True," Vanessa agrees with a smile as she leans in for another kiss, a little more passionate than the last. Her toast pops up and Charity groans in disappointment when she pulls away. Vanessa squeezes Charity's hands, holding onto them as she backs up until the distance grows too great and she has to let them go. She turns away to attend to the toast and Charity watches her for a moment, sipping her tea.
"I-I'm glad," she says, out of nowhere. Vanessa turns and tilts her head, obviously waiting for more. "That he was at yours. Noah." She looks down. "If he couldn't be with me at Christmas, then I'm glad he was, you know, having fun."
Vanessa leaves the toast and comes back to her, taking the cup out of her hand. She wraps her arms around Charity's waist, pulling her close. Charity closes her eyes, enjoying the way Vanessa always seems to know what she needs, and gives it so freely. She brings her own arms up around Vanessa's shoulders, resting their foreheads together.
"He smiled a lot that day," Vanessa says. "And he was so nice and polite."
"You're sure it was Noah?" Charity asks.
Vanessa laughs, softly. "It was a bit of a mad house that day, but yeah, pretty sure it was him."
"Noah, Cain, Moira, Finn," Charity frowns. If Vanessa'd had anyone round for Christmas, she'd have expected it to be Rhona and Paddy. "How'd you end up with all that lot for Christmas?" Vanessa looks away and shrugs. Charity frowns. She bumps Vanessa's head with her own. "Ness?"
Sighing, Vanessa turns back, meeting Charity's eyes. "It was...well, we still thought Adam was Johnny's dad at that point. And him and Vic had come round to give him his presents in the morning and-" She shrugs again. "Adam...sort of figured out that I was going to be on my own for the day, so he organised for everyone to come round."
Genuine pain radiates from Charity's chest through her torso. The image of Vanessa, of her Vanessa, spending Christmas all alone doesn't even bear thinking about. Charity's spent a fair few Christmases by herself; no family and no friends to speak of. She knows what a long and lonely day it can be. "Oh, babe," she murmurs.
"Oi!" Vanessa says, blinking a bit too quickly. "That's enough of that, madam! I didn't tell you to get sympathy."
Charity can relate. There's nothing she hates more than pity. So she plasters on a bright smile and shakes her head. "No? I can't feel just a little bit sorry for you because you had to spend Christmas with Moira?"
"Charity!" Vanessa scolds, shoving gently at her. "You're awful."
"And you love me," Charity says, not even bothering to phrase it as a question any more.
"I don't know what that says about me," Vanessa says, pressing a kiss to Charity's jaw.
"That you are a woman of taste and refinement." Charity jokes. She pulls Vanessa closer, nuzzling her cheek for a moment before placing her lips next to her ear. "And guess what?"
Charity pulls back enough to look into Vanessa's eyes. "I think you're sorted for company this coming Christmas."
She watches Vanessa's eyes widen slightly, her lips twitching at the edges. It's the furthest into the future any of them have dared to speak about. But it feels right. They've been through so much in such a short time that she can't imagine anything coming their way that would break them. And she can't look into her future without seeing Vanessa as part of it anymore.
"Yeah?" Vanessa's voice is rough and it makes Charity want to kiss her.
"Yeah." So she does.
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